An insured must reside at their property to have coverage for damage to their home under an HO form policy. The defense arises out of the typical HO policy’s definition of “residence premises,” and the introductory clause in the building coverage portion of the policy that explains what the insurer covers.
Insurers previously relied on the “vacancy” exclusion in these circumstances. The “vacancy” exclusion, however, only precludes coverage for homes that are devoid of all contents. See Hehemann v. Michigan Millers Mut. Ins. Co., 240 So. 2d 851, 854 (Fla. 4th DCA 1970).
Following Hehemann, Florida law provided no distinct answer as to whether an insured was entitled to coverage when an insured submitted a claim under an HO policy for a property in which he or she did not reside. Unless it was empty, Florida law did not allow an insurer to exclude damage via the “vacancy” exclusion.
In 2010, the Fourth District Court of Appeals finally shed light on the “residence premises” definition. See Harrington v. Citizens Property Ins. Corp., 54 So. 3d 999 (Fla. 4th DCA 2010).
The court explained that a property could not be a “residence premises” unless the insured resided at the property and the property was shown in the declarations pages. Although the court did not apply the definition as a coverage limitation to the Harrington’s liability claim, the court made clear that the definition of “residence premises” was enforceable.
Since 1983, many states have enforced the definition to exclude property damage claims at properties where the insureds did not reside. See Georgia Farm Bureau Mut. Ins. Co. v. Kephart, 439 S.E. 2d 682; Marshall v. Tower Ins. C. of New York, 44 A.D. 3d 1014 (2007); Heniser v. Frankenmuth Mut. Ins. Co., 534 S.W. 2d 502 (Mich. 1995).
Florida trial courts still await the appellate courts’ clear directive on the “residence premises” definitional defense to property damage claims. In the meantime, Harrington provides a sturdy foundation for insurers to rely on the defense.
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